Interaction and networking: World Café, gamification and matchmaking as drivers for successful meetings and conventions

In today's world, delegates want to be active participants and contribute more to meetings and conventions. New methods and ideas are taking hold in order to break routines and create more interactive events - read on for insights in how to use BarCamps, speed-dating technique, World Café & Co.

Interaction is a major success factor for every event because the more active participants become, the better they learn and retain. Another factor contributing to the rise of integrating as many interactive elements as possible is the paradigm shift brought about by the Web 2.0, with its focus on user-generated content and the prominence of social media. Alternatively, centralised expert knowledge is increasingly replaced by non-hierarchical swarm intelligence. Last but certainly not least, technology has propelled the meeting industry on a new level with regard to knowledge transfer, networking and participation of delegates.

Event organisers and venues have three means of creating more interactive congresses and meetings:

1. Establish interactive event formats

In the case of BarCamps, defined as ad-hoc "unconferences", the content of events is entirely and directly decided by the participants. This type of open and participative event follows a "No spectators, only participants!" guideline, starting with a round where everyone briefly introduces themselves with their name, where they come from and three hashtags that define them. This method serves as an icebreaker, supports a sense of camaraderie and makes networking easier. A minimum number of participants need to agree to the suggested topics before every participant freely chooses which sessions they would like to be part of and how they want to engage in the session.

The World Café as well as the roundtable sessions cater for the growing interest of participants in actively shaping events without restricting those that wish to remain passive. The World Café method works with a sequence of 20 to 30 minute rounds of conversation that build on each other, each time with four to six people sitting together round a table in a casual atmosphere. Such small groups are particularly well suited for effective discussions that need to end in documented results.

In the case of science slams, scientists present their research work within a ten-minute periods. The aim is not to present a research topic in all its detail - which, given the time, would not be possible anyway - but to present it in an entertaining way to an audience who then judges the presentation. Therefore, this type of presentation needs to be as clear, entertaining ad easy to understand as it is academic. Even if a science slams is perceived as a fun item on the agenda, this format can do much more than loosen up an event; if appropriately prepared and implemented, it can actually become an event's unique selling point.

2. Integrate interactive elements

Interactive elements, such as speed demonstrations and gamification, are individual components of an event. They not only help to actively integrate participants but also further develop the organisation and methodology of an event. Speed demonstrations are comparable to speed dating, with the difference being that delegates do not introduce themselves but rather get five minutes to present their products and services. While doing so, they remain in the same place and participants move from one presentation to the next in the room. Gamification, on the other hand, applies typical elements of game playing to a context that has nothing to do with game playing. Experience points, progress bars, rankings or awards motivate participants to master even complex content and tasks in a playful way and attend as many sessions as possible.

3. Use of interactive media/technologies

Interactive types of media and technologies (holograms, tangible media, bluescape, etc can boost interactivity even more. You can add virtual spaces to real-world events to provide a further option for participants to interact and engage with each other. This type of exchange is a prerequisite to building effective networks. Organisers can foster such networking in two ways: First, the use of digital matchmaking tools, enabling participants to state which topics they are interested in prior to the event. Organisers can then use this data to match participants with similar interests.The second option is to increase the use of social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) as platforms for sharing opinions, experiences and information in order to foster networking building.

4. Fluid transitions

The transitions between interactive formats, elements, media and technologies are fluid. Interactive formats can also be the defining element of an entire event, the so-called fishbowl dialogue is a prime example of a fluid format. This layout encourages participants to sit in a small circle of armchairs in the middle, while everyone else involved sits in a second circle or a number of circles around them. Only individuals in the inner circle take an active part in the discussion. Attendees in the outer circle are encouraged to join the inner circle at any time to participate and share their input. New media and technologies can also result in new interactive elements. For example, social media walls increasingly compliment (and replace) traditional Q&A sessions. Instawalks consist of taking many images or recording videos on one theme from different perspectives. The images, videos and posts are clustered online by the use of a predetermined hashtag. This whole process would be impossible without the use of smartphones.

The "Future Meeting Room" scenario shows how events can promote interactive knowledge transfer. It was developed by the "Future Meeting Space" innovation network that was set up by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, the European Association of Event Centres (EVVC) and the GCB German Convention Bureau.

The results of the research phase will serve as an instruction manual for the design of future-oriented organisational, technological and special future meeting spaces in phase 2 of the project.